Chinese Families in the Post-Mao Era

By Min, Pyong Gap | Journal of Comparative Family Studies, Autumn 1995 | Go to article overview

Chinese Families in the Post-Mao Era


Min, Pyong Gap, Journal of Comparative Family Studies


DAVIS, Deborah and Stevan HARRELL eds., Chinese Families In The Post-Mao Era. Berkeley, CA: University of California Press, 1993, 370 pp., $17.00 softcover/$55.00 hardcover.

PYONG GAP MIN*

Chinese Families in the Post-Mao Era, edited by Deborah Davis and Stevan Harrell, provides a comprehensive overview of the many changes in the contemporary Chinese family system caused by Post-Mao economic reforms and the one child policy. The eleven chapters of the book were originally presented at a conference on "Family Strategies in Post-Mao China," held at Roche Harbor, Washington in June 1990. Many different aspects of Chinese families in the post-Mao era were covered: urban and rural family structure, family economic strategies, mate selection patterns, dowry and brideprice, the one child policy, and family strategies of coping with schizophrenia. Each chapter was written by an expert(s) on Chinese families and based on survey and/or field study the author(s) conducted in particular cities/villages of China during recent years.

In their basic approach, the authors look at "family behavior as the adaptation of cultural rules to changing and diverse political and economic circumstances" (p. 20). Although the book focuses on changes in Chinese families in the post-Mao era, each chapter compares those changes to the changes brought about by marriage and family laws enforced by the Communist government during the Maoist period. In traditional Chinese society, Confucianism provided the cultural basis for an extreme form of patriarchy, resulting in many feudalistic family and marriage practices: brideprice, dowry, polygamy and concubinage, early and arranged marriage. Family laws during the Maoist period abolished these feudalistic practices, thus weakening the traditional Chinese family system. In addition, the collectivization of the economy further weakened patriarchy by depriving the male household head of property ownership, the basis for his status and power. Thus, government policies brought about the changes in Chinese families that Goode and other theorists expected them to result from industrialization.

By contrast, the post-1978 Deng reforms that aimed to shift from collectivization to entrepreneurship and privatization contributed to the resurgence of many aspects of the traditional Chinese family system: bride price, dowry, lavish weddings, extended families, and lineage villages. …

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